Sportsmen “get” fellowship. We love being together in camp or in a duck blind sharing the outdoor lifestyle. Often those relationships go beyond the wild into every day life. It’s a fraternity of sorts. A brotherhood.
But what about the church? This topic has dominated so many of my conversations over the last several weeks. There is an outcry among christians, at least in my part of the world, for more meaningful fellowship.
That outcry can point to a handful of potential symptoms. First, there may be a true shortage of teaching concerning fellowship’s nature among God’s people. Second, it could mean there is an internal, wide-spread, lack of willingness to pursue and invest in fellowship of this kind. It could also mean God’s spirit is beginning to reveal a deep need for Biblically fueled discipling relationships that reflect a more accurate picture of God’s will for his church. The deeper implication reveals, and it’s alarming, that there are a lot of lonely believers.
As concerning as the case may be, it’s very cool to hear Christians say, “I need more meaningful fellowship in my life.” It means they are tired of the same superficiality they have become so accustomed to. The spirit in them is prodding them toward what they really do need.
The challenge comes when you pose the question, “What does that meaningful fellowship need to include to be more meaningful?” This list isn’t exhaustive, but these things are at the heart of every conversation I’ve had on this topic that Christians seem to be seeking out.
Edifying Christian fellowship, while Christlike to the unregenerate, is predicated on the justifying work of the Son of God and the indwelling power of the holy spirit.
We should absolutely build relationships with those who reject the idea that Christ is the Son of God and that he is is the only way to heaven. However, those relationships should not look the same as the relationships we have with other Christians. Here’s why.
2 Corinthians 6:14-15 “What portion does a believer share with an unbeliever?” Christ is the allotment given to his people. Just as God’s love for the believer differs from his love for the unbeliever, (God does not call those who reject Christ sons or daughters but continues to show them compassion and common grace.) so should our relationships with unbelievers follow the same pattern.
In order for Christian fellowship to find it’s unification, Christ must be the unifier. When we gather for corporate worship, we gather under the implication that we recognize Jesus as the Christ. The promised one. The Son of God. Because he is our portion, our love for him, and out love for each other is filled with the power and promise of his atonement, an understanding of God’s word, and the access to God that we have through prayer.
2. Love for One Another
This love, of course, is defined in the same way God’s love is defined for us. God has given his son for our salvation. We must also give of ourselves for the edification and maturity of the church. This means considering others, praying for them, discipling them, helping in their time of need.
Jesus made clear that Christian love for one another was purposed with such value that it was to be the badge by which the world would know that we are his disciples. (John 13:35)
The importance of this in meaningful fellowship can’t be overstated. In almost every interaction I’ve had with Christians feeling lonely, or seeking more meaningful fellowship with other Christians, unselfish love is one of the most sought after elements.
But here is the qualifier of Jesus’ statement. We are to love “one another”. This is not a one-sided love. It is a love that contains two people giving, even sacrificing, of themselves for the enrichment and strengthening of each other.
In order for our fellowship with other Christians to feel more meaningful, it is absolutely necessary for us, even first, to ask the question, “Am I loving as Christ loved?”
3. God’s Word
I can think of almost no instances growing up in church where we sat in a good ol’ fashioned potluck and suddenly a discussion over scripture broke out. Typically, there may have been a short “devotional” tacked on to the program, usually led by the pastor or a Sunday school teacher, but it was seldom moving to my soul.
Colossians 3:16 says that Christians are to “Let the word of God dwell in us richly.” When we are together with fellows believers, we should not tuck God’s word away. That richness should exude from God’s people. We should be eager to share what God’s word says as we speak into one another’s lives.
If Christian fellowship is to gather under the banner of Christ in a meaningfully, then holding the place we met him for the first time more highly in our conversations is a non-negotiable.
We either believe that prayer is our communication with God and that he is sovereign over that communication or we do not. There is no in-between. It ought to be a part of our fellowship with and for one another.
John Piper describes prayer as, “A war-time walkie talkie” in his book Let the Nations Be Glad. Within the context of missions, he paints the picture of prayer as being the supply line of power and resources to the front. We can apply this same metaphor to the function of prayer in our fellowship with other Christians. Powerful, meaningful fellowship among God’s people can only be possible when those people are in regular communication with God.
The restorative work of Jesus has allowed us to regain access to God’s presence. When we seek only superficial relationships, or worse, continuous isolation, we only pander to a worldly idea of “self-suffiency”. When we participate in, and contribute to maturity-cultivating, faith-inspiring, and edifying relationships that include these four elements, we demonstrate the nature of God’s desire to have his glory seen throughout the world.
The sportsman’s instinct to cultivate meaningful relationships should be more visible in the church, but that, of course, is whole other blog post!
Can you remember a time that you experienced fellowship outside Sunday morning that contained one or more of these elements? Leave a comment!